DAYTONA BEACH— The race drama was reminiscent of the Father Flanagan Christmas Card from ‘Boys Town’ in Nebraska from years ago. That picture had a down and out youngster who was carrying his younger brother on his back. He is looking for the famous ‘Boys Town’ orphanage. The youth crosses the path of Fr. Flanagan, the humanistic Catholic priest who founded the famous institution. The young boy showing spunk but definitely in distress responds, “Father, he’s not heavy……He’s my brother.”
When Brian Keselowski qualified for the 53rd running of the Daytona-500 it probably became the feel good motorsports story of the year.
The above description doesn’t mimic this situation but the quote fits spot on. This time the younger brother carried the day. So many elements and racing associates contributed. Even though the operation was underfinanced, the #92 Dodge team was on top of the world. Their K-Automotive Motorsports Team got some late sponsorship from Detroit based Discount Tire. That surely helped but the team didn’t even have hotel rooms. Penske Racing pitched in along with some unattached NASCAR certified pit-crew.
Then, the younger brother contributed in a big way.
Brian, 29, is the older brother of NASCAR sensation Brad Keselowski, 26. “I’m here on a credit card and a prayer,” said Brian. On the last day of qualifying he got into the Daytona-500 with some help and a literal push from his younger brother. Brad had qualified already in the Penske Dodge #2 car. During a qualifying race, he found himself behind his brother Brian and pushed the #92 car up to the front of the pack and across the finish.
Brian had an emotional moment when he stopped on pit road and realized he had made the big dance. He then got a hug from his younger brother. Kay, their mom, came up a few minutes later to join the celebration. Kay Keselowski said, “I have been doing this for thirty years. I went to Brian first because I figured he needed the support. Then I went back to Brad’s motor home. He walked in and I said, ‘Brad, you are my hero.’ And he just goes, ‘I try, Mom.’”
Later Brad added, “He made good moves (Brian). He found the right holes and used ’em right. Brian has got some experience at this — more than people think. I’m really proud of him. He did a great job.”
The Keselowski’s, both Rochester Hills, Michigan natives, have a racing pedigree. Their father, Robert, raced in the ARCA series in the 70’s and Uncle Ron raced in four -Daytona 500’s. 2007 Daytona 500 champion Kevin Harvick said. “Usually, one thing leads to another. The Keselowski family, you couldn’t ask for better people.”
Brad has had great success in the #22 Penske Dodge last year. In fact, he won the Nationwide Series point championship last season. He was also named the Most Popular Driver for the third consecutive year. Penske Racing upgraded Brad to the #2 Miller Lite Dodge for the Daytona 500.
Brian got his start on short track racing in Michigan and Ohio. He ran the ARCA circuit last year.
Veteran NASCAR driver Joe Nemechek of the #87 Toyota car said, “The Keselowski brothers provided the entire sport with a feel-good moment. All the guys in the garage know what Brian has to work with. To make this race is awesome.” The older Keselowski got some additional sponsorship for his #92 car from the Golden Corral restaurant chain.
Bob Keselowski said, “Coming in we thought, No matter what, this is going to be a great opportunity for Brian to run at Daytona with the big boys.”
The Daytona 500 is the first big NASCAR race of the year and it is the biggest race of the season. This is the only sport in which the biggest event is at the beginning and it carries by far the largest purse. The race is the direct successor of shorter beach races held on Daytona Beach in the late 40’s and early 50’s.
With over 180,000 in attendance at the Daytona International Raceway, the euphoria did not last long. On the 29th lap, a 15-car monster wreck took out Brian Keselowski. He was up high on the track and another rookie, Andy Lally #71 came up spinning out of control and ended the day for #92. The original mess was caused by Michael Waltrip #15 and Dave Reutimann #00. It was a two car drafting procedure that went astray.
Rookie Trevor Bayne ended up winning with the #21 Ford. It was a white knuckle finish with four cars having a chance to slingshot into the lead. In fact, Ford cars finished 1-2-3 and Edsel Ford, along with Ford execs visited in ‘Garage Alley’ during Speed Week.
Brian and K-Racing Team got a purse of $273,663.00 for starting in the big race.
Brad Keselowski and Penske Racing had the Miller Lite Dodge in contention. He led for nine laps. On lap 167 he got contact from Robby Gordon’s Dodge #31 and was sent into the outside wall. The younger Keselowski had to settle for a 29th-place finish.
The Daytona International Speedway had been recently resurfaced and was fast. Drivers figured out that by hooking up in two-car packs and drafting it was a faster way around the course.
On the third lap, the spectators at Daytona International Raceway stood in silence, with three fingers raised toward the sky. This was a tribute to the late Dale Earnhardt. The acknowledgement marked the 10-year anniversary of Earnhardt’s fatal accident at the famous track.
Jack Hege was honored again as he was previously presented to the driver’s at the pre-race meeting. He has been to all 52 Daytona 500 races as a spectator. Afterwards the drivers and guests had an opportunity to attend the traditional chapel service.
NASCAR announced that next year’s Daytona 500 race will be pushed back by a week to Sunday, February 26, 2012.
Michigan International Speedway will host NASCAR twice, June 18-19 and August 20-21. Chicago Speedway will race September 18-19.
The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series now heads out to Phoenix International Raceway for next weekend’s Subway Fresh Fit 500. The Phoenix Cup action gets under way on Friday with practice sessions. Saturday’s 1:40 P.M. single round of qualifying will determine the entire 43-car starting field. Sunday’s 312-lap, 312-mile (500 kilometer) race is scheduled to start at 1:00 P.M. local time with live coverage on FOX-TV and MRN Radio.